Think your daughter would never get inside a car with a stranger or open the door of your home to someone she just met on Facebook? Think again.
YouTuber Coby Persin -- a self-described 21-year-old "prankster who looks like Zac Efron" -- decided to put those questions to the test with the help of three families, and record the results on video. He created a fake Facebook profile for one 15-year-old "Jason Biazzo" and then, with the parents' permission, contacted the three unsuspecting teenage girls to see how far they would go to meet their new online contact. Persin's video is far from a prank, he insists, and his findings are extremely scary.
The video, called The Dangers of Social Media (Child Predator Social Experiment), is also attracting attention, garnering more than 17 million views since being uploaded on August 10.
CNET en Español reached out to Persin to talk about the project. He explained that the inspiration came from seeing a news story about a 27-year-old man who allegedly lured a 12-year-old girl to an in-person meeting via Instagram.
Persin seeks inspiration from real-life events to create videos of pranks for his YouTube channel, which has almost 1.2 million subscribers. He felt he needed to raise awareness of how easy it is to deceive a teen using social media as the bait. "The whole world should know this," Persin said.
Persin put out a call on Craigslist seeking parents with teens active on social media. Initially, he chose six families, but for the video, he used only the three girls, ages 12 to 14, who were the most responsive to the messages from Persin acting as young Jason Biazzo.
Persin explained that the fake profile showed the picture of a good-looking teen, which might have impacted the girls' reactions. The real picture is from a guy named Effy Levy, who allowed them to use his Instagram selfie for the experiment.
Persin explained how easily he ingratiated himself with his targets:
"All I said was, 'Hey' and they said, 'Who are you? Do I know you?' They all said something like that and then I was like, 'Oh no. I just moved to the area,' or I would be like 'my mom just let me get Facebook, I'm 15 years old.' You know? Stuff like that to lure these kids so quick."
With very simple conversations Persin was able establish communication with the girls for a period that lasted between three and five days. In this short time, the three girls agreed to meet him in person in different scenarios: at a park during the day, at their house at night and getting into a car, also at night.
The parents were part of the whole process, and most of the time they remained skeptical that their daughters would meet a complete stranger from Facebook in person. The teens were also confronted by the parents after the fact and got harshly lectured, after being literally caught in the act, according to Persin.
But this isn't the end of the experiment. Next week Persin says his channel will release the second part of this project, but this time he will pretend to be a girl to lure teenage boys. "They [boys] just see a cute girl and they're like oh I wanna meet. They don't understand that it could be an old man," Persin said.
"We are just here spreading awareness and showing the world how it is," he concluded.
Organizations like Child Lure Prevention offer assistance and guidance to help parents protect their kids from predators. A few tips on the site are:
- Emphasizing every child's right to live free of abuse
- Promoting healthy social relationships
- Nurturing mutual kindness and respect
- Setting personal and digital boundaries
- Identifying trusted adults
- Upholding a zero-tolerance environment in which harassment and abuse are openly discussed and disclosed
What do you think of this experiment? Share your thoughts in our comments section.